Friday, August 11, 2017

Communicating Effectively With Dispatchers

I spend a lot of time in the forum at trying to help newcomers to the industry cleanse their brains of the garbage they have learned from their online research into the trucking career. Unfortunately there is a voluminous cache of seemingly irrefutable misinformation out there on how to succeed at trucking, and it is disheartening how much of it comes from truckers themselves. Seemingly everyday we have some new person in the forum talking about how they want to start with "such and such" a company because they have got lots of miles, or they would never recommend "such and such" a company because they just don't have the miles. Here's an example... Just yesterday we had a person who was in training at C.R. England talking about how the company just doesn't care about their drivers, are using them as cheap labor, and then starving them out once they become solo drivers so that they can just keep on extorting productivity from the next gullible batch of students coming in on the next bus, or some such familiar line of garbage that you could hear on any given day in any driver's lounge. I mean, these are truck drivers themselves who say such nonsense, and vocally agree with it each time they hear this junk vomited out again and again. Then you have the reality of this whole career, willfully ignored by the truck driving masses, where the guys who understand how this all works are out there reaching Million Mile Status at the same companies who are slandered all over the internet from the very misguided, non-productive, willfully ignorant truck driving crowd.

Here's a small example from my current week that makes a great example of how the top tier guys and gals take the high road to make all this stuff come together, while others are willingly content to sit and complain. I started the week with a tough assignment. Without boring you with all the details, I had a load that really had about two extra days worth of time on it. Basically it was a 1,500 mile run with five days to get it done. The reasons for the extra days were because it had six stops on it and they were spread apart at just the right distances to make it real tricky due to the unusual receiving hours at the different customers. By making contact with each customer, and successfully getting two of them to receive me considerably past their normal receiving hours, I got it done in three days! Hoo-Ray, sounds great doesn't it? Not so fast. My effective communications helped me get that one done early, but they also created a new problem for me. My next load which was pre-planned already as a pre-loaded trailer at the SAPA plant in Cressona, Pennsylvania, was not scheduled to be loaded for almost 30 hours after I arrived there. I don't want or need a 34 hour re-set, I want to keep up this good momentum.

I have sat and listened to drivers just giving their dispatchers grief over this type of stuff repeatedly. I still remember my trainer just yelling and screaming at our dispatcher about delays like this and threatening him that he (the driver) was going to fire him (the dispatcher), as if he (the driver) were the boss in this working relationship! That is not the way to success out here. A great driver will get things accomplished by quietly getting things done because he understands the subtleties of the problems that dispatchers and planners deal with. Logistics is not a clear cut science. Load planners and dispatchers are trying to keep a lot of plates in the air all at the same time. Sometimes the driver feels the effect of that juggling act in the way he is dispatched. So, here's is what I did as soon as I got to Cressona, PA. I sent in my arrival call, and then I sent in my "detention is likely" call. That way I will get paid detention for my time of waiting - even if I am off duty for 34 hours. That is good effective communication, but it is not the way to make the top money out here. I do not like to settle for detention pay. Productivity is the way to success out here.

So, my next step is to send the following "free form" message to my dispatcher on the Quallcomm: "Hey, I am here at Cressona, but my load isn't scheduled to be ready for another 30 hours. I am not in need of a re-set, and I am willing to do something else during the wait here. Could you please check with the planners and see if maybe there is a little short haul out of here that we could do while we are waiting, or maybe some shuttle work of some sort? I'd much rather be getting something accomplished over taking a long nap!" His immediate response is, "10-4, I'm shooting them an e-mail right now - I'll let you know something as soon as they respond." Here is the magical part of this whole scenario: I'm not stressed, or upset about anything. I know how to get things done, and I have taken all the right steps here. I am in total control here. It is either going to work out or not, but I have effectively covered my bases for success.

I promise you it wasn't ten minutes that went by when I get a message that says, "Hey, how do you feel about shuttling a damaged trailer from that customer over to a repair facility in Ohio? It is an 850 mile round trip, and you can bob-tail back to the customer after dropping the trailer." Bingo! I just effectively turned what was going to be about 125 bucks of detention pay into 425 dollars of real truck driving pay! It is going to be another great week after all. It was easy, it was stress free, it was extremely effective.

Here is a look at the damaged trailer that I hauled over to Perrysburg, Ohio (Just outside of Toledo) Some of this equipment gets pretty beat up out here.  Rookie drivers are famous for making mistakes and tearing stuff up, but this was actually done by the "Yard Dog" at the SAPA plant in Cressona, PA. "Yard Dog" is a term that is commonly used for the small tractor used at a plant where trailers need to be moved around for loading purposes.  The name is also used for the person who drives such a tractor.  He apparently got tangled up with something and tore the fabric on this Conestoga cover.  It definitely needed to be repaired...

Always keep your dispatcher informed of your ETA's (estimated time of arrival) and your PTA's (projected time of availability). These are really effective tools at your disposal - they help your dispatcher keep you busy. All these major carriers have what it takes to keep you busy, their is no lack of freight. What their does seem to be is a disparity of communication when you compare the steps taken by successful drivers and average knuckle-heads out here who are constantly griping about how they are treated by this industry.

Be respectful to your dispatcher, he really does want to keep you busy. Communicate effectively with him so that he has the tools to work with for your benefit. Most of them get paid production bonuses, and that is why they love the types of drivers who do the things I just laid out for you in this scenario. He was thrilled that I not only wanted to do more, but was capable of taking the steps that enable him to give me more to do. Drivers and dispatchers are a working team, we are not "Us against Them."

Here's an additional and amusing bit of information on this same subject. The guy who was complaining about C.R. England got some responses from someone who used to be a driver for Knight Transportation. That driver kept on referring to how he couldn't get the needed miles at Knight, so now he was with a "much better" company. It is a typical example of what I am trying to illustrate here. We need to focus on ourselves, and how we manage the maze of what it takes to succeed out here. I am with Knight, and if I could possibly run more than my average of about 3,200 - 3,400 miles per week they would be doing what they could to help me get there!

Saturday, August 5, 2017

She's Gone

"The true way to live is to enjoy every moment as it passes - it is in the every day things around us that the beauty of life lies."

                                                                        -Laura Ingalls Wilder

Let me apologize to those of you who were looking for an update on my travels with my wife and our dog "Trixie."  They got off my truck today, and I am already missing them both.  It was very different having passengers along with me, but very enjoyable.  I was saddened when they left.  I am back to my regular old routine of being alone, but that is just part of the job of being an over the road truck driver.  The separation from your family only makes you appreciate them that much more.  A fine time was had by us all.

We had originally planned for her to stay with me for one week, but we ended up doing two, and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves through it all.  Having my family with me has always been a treat.  All three of my girls have ridden with me, and now I can add that my wife has ridden with me too.  I must admit that I was preoccupied with having her along, and I just never took the time to write anything about it here.  Let me first share with you where we went together.  Our first trip started at the SAPA plant in Delhi, Louisiana and we went to Connecticut, a fairly typical load for me.  Here are the customers, and their locations, that we made deliveries to on that first leg of our journey together...

Yarde Metals in Southington, Connecticut

Porcelen in Hamden, Connecticut

Stanley Access Technologies in Farmington, Connecticut

Kim was happy to get to go up into the New England area and enjoyed the scenery along the way.

We had one little mishap where she fell out of the tractor while trying to climb out at a truck stop.  She got a few bruises but was not hurt badly.  By the way, did you know that falling from the tractor is the most common injury that happens to over the road truck drivers?  That is a true fact, and an interesting little piece of trucking trivia for those of you who may be interested.  I felt bad because I had neglected to go over with her about how important it is to maintain three points of contact at all times when climbing down from the tractor.  After that I probably got on her nerves reminding her, each time we stopped, to use three points of contact.

Our back haul load picked up from the SAPA plant in Cressona, Pennsylvania and had two stops on it.  I took her to breakfast at Jean's place while we were in Cressona, and she got to meet my friend Jean.  I've posted in here a couple of times about this very small little restaurant, and we had a typical visit there with Jean spending some time with us at our table conversing about my life and travels as an over the road truck driver.  It was a pleasant experience for us all.

We made both our deliveries in Tennessee to the following customers...

Great Dane Trailer Manufacturing in Huntsville, Tennessee

IMC Aluminum Fabrication in Unicoi, Tennessee

Then we ran empty back to Delhi thinking that my wife would go home from there.  On our way back I got a message from my dispatcher informing us that our next load would take us on a good long trip with multiple stops that would final up in Fairfax, Vermont.  Well, that was just too much for her to bear, since she had already told me that she would really like to see Vermont some time.  Just as she made up her mind to stay with me another week, I got a call from my dispatcher letting me know that our much anticipated trip into Vermont was getting cancelled!

He went over a list of available loads that we could choose from, and one particular one caught my attention.  It had it's final stop up in Farmington, Minnesota, but it also had two things about it that I knew would interest my wife, so I told him to put me on that one.  Allow me to insert a tip here for any future truck drivers following along in here.  This is how you can be treated when you have proven yourself to your company as the type of driver who always gets things done.  I get preferential treatment all the time.  Getting to pick and choose my loads is a common occurrence for me.  I'm not trying to boast or sound proud here, I just want to show the pleasant realities of a career that is much maligned by the naysayers who slander their employers and talk badly about being "force dispatched" by Nazi dispatchers.  The drivers who are recognized as movers and shakers in this business are highly respected and often times treated like royalty.

Okay, as I am sure you are wondering by now, I will share with you what the two things were about this load that I knew would interest my dear wife.  First off, it had two stops in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and the delivery appointments would allow us to spend a little down time there.  Secondly, it had a stop in De Smet, South Dakota.

Well, that would allow us to spend some time with our long time close friends in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Jim and Virginia Rogers.  We've known them both since before we were married, and we've been married 35 years!  They both turn 88 years old this year, and I try to see them as often as I get the chance.  This was a special treat for Kim.  Jim outdid himself by cooking us a delicious meal of smoked chicken with baked potatoes and homemade strawberry shortcake for dessert.  Here's a shot of Kim and Virginia enjoying seeing each other on the couch in their living room...

For you to understand our connection with De Smet I need to give you just a little family history, or background.  During the years that we were raising our three little girls we spent a lot of time reading the Laura Ingalls Wilder books to them.  We have always had a wonderful family life together, but one thing that was always special for us was reading together in the evenings.  We purposely never owned a television, and that one unusual action alone made our family life very different from most folks.  Each of us has fond memories of snuggling up in the bed together, or maybe sitting around a nice fire in the fire-place on a chilly winter night, cozily reading together of those adventurous pioneer experiences of the Ingall's family.  So, while in De Smet, I took a little extra time and we looked around at some of the things that the Laura Ingalls Wilder Society there has to offer to the tourist who happen to travel through the area.

We toured the home that "Pa" built in town, and even learned some things that we didn't know about the Ingalls family from our many readings of the books.  The tour started at this lovely little home where the Laura Ingalls Wilder Society spearheads their tours...

The tour included the original Surveyors cabin, and a replicated building like the one room school house along with a restored covered wagon from the time period.  Here is a shot of Kim and Trixie standing on the small porch of the house that Pa built in town.  The house was originally much smaller, but they added on to it as time and money allowed.  It stands today with much of the original materials still preserved for the many fascinated onlookers who show up to see it...

I got a kick out of the restrooms that we came across at a De Smet city park while we were out walking our dog.  The whole town here has embraced the legacy of having such a famous author spend some of their lifetime here.  Instead of having a sign that indicates which restroom is for the men or the women, they just used those familiar and affectionate words of Laura's for her parents, to indicate which gender belonged in which side of the building.

We did have one slight problem on this little trip, and that was the struggle for who was supposed to get to ride in the passenger seat.  It seems that Trixie thought we had made this trip just for her, and therefore she thought the passenger seat was her right and privilege.  On the other hand Kim seemed to think we had taken this adventure for her pleasure, and so the struggle for dominance ensued and endured throughout the trip.  Sometimes I would look over there in the passenger seat and see something like this...

Other times I might look over there and see a negotiated compromise going on which usually looked something like this..

While Trixie seemed to prefer that seat all to herself, she was willing to share it, as long as she could come and go as she pleased.  That dog took her duties seriously on this trip, and she was determined that we had brought her along for extra security.  She was fierce when anyone got too close to our truck!  Who knows what goes on in a dog's head?  I only know that she was determined that we had brought her along for a reason, and she was intent on taking care of her important business.

We made our way back to Delhi with some return materials that we had picked up while in Tulsa, which made for a nice leisurely back haul trip for us.

We had a great time together.  Both of us enjoyed this trip very much.  I am hoping we get to do it again sometime soon.  We got to see some of the country together, and we took the time to see some old friends along the way, and enjoy our little connection with De Smet while there.  Overall, I'd say that was a great trip together!  This is a demanding career, but you don't have to be a slave to it, nor tyrannized by it's demands.  You can enjoy yourself out here, and it is important that you do.  I certainly do, and it makes it all worth while when you can enjoy what you do, and make a great living at it too.

She's gone, but not forgotten.  I think of her constantly, and speak with her daily.  She's as much a part of me as I am of her.  Our separation is momentary, but our love and affection is forever ongoing.  It is a difficulty that the Over The Road driver endures, but he bears up under it knowing that he is doing a job that helps to keep our economy humming along.  I love my wife, and I love my job.  Keeping those two things in balance is a rewarding challenge that many fail to do.  I hope I can look back at the end of my days and know that I did just that.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Me And You, And A Dog Named Boo

"Me and you and a dog named boo,
Travellin' and livin' off the land.
Me and you and a dog named boo,
How I love being a free man."

Those are the lyrics to one of a few hits that the band "Lobo" came up with a good many years ago.

They came to mind this week as I set off to do something for the first time ever.  After spending an entire week of home time with my dear wife, she has decided she wants to ride with me for a little while.  This is something I have looked forward to for a good while.  We are also taking our little Rat Terrier "Trixie" with us.

So, we are going to see how these two girls like life on the road, an experiment that will probably determine how many of us end up riding in this truck in the future.  I have a feeling the dog is going to love it, and the wife is going to say, "That was fun, but I'll see you when you come home next time."  She will probably prove me wrong, she has a way of doing that at times when I least expect it.

My wife is free from some of her responsibilities around here, since she recently quit working.  I am glad to have her along.  It will be fun being together, and it will be fun for her to see what I do out here on the road.  I always had a great time with my girls when they rode with me, and I see no reason for this to be any different.  The problem lies in the fact that living on the road is not always easy.  Oh it is interesting and fun at times, but it isn't always easy.  There will be adjustments that I'll probably make to accommodate her, but she insists that she doesn't want me to cut into the way I perform my job.  She wants me to keep making that top money!

She is a great gal, always willing to sacrifice for my success.  That's one of the many reasons I love her like I do.

Today is Wednesday.  I came home Friday for some doctor appointments this week.  My dispatcher told me to take as much time as I needed.  It looks like we will pull out of here on Friday.  I will probably pick up a load in Delhi, Louisiana on Saturday and get this journey started.  I'll update this in a few days and we will try to keep you posted on how it is going with the three of us on board. 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Putting Your Career into Overdrive

I spend a lot of time trying to help people understand how to succeed at Trucking.  Goodness, just a brief little bit of research online into this career will make you realize that a lot of people are not doing very well as truck drivers.  It is a much misunderstood career.  People hear about how you can make some big money at this, then they see a few of those misleading ads on the back of semi-trailers and they go jumping in completely unprepared for what they are about to get into.  From what I can gather there is approximately 5% of the new entrants into this career who go on to be successful at it. That's pretty bad statistics.

Many of the larger trucking companies have instituted their own training programs to help people obtain a CDL and get started in the career simply because they need drivers.  It seems they have a slightly little better chance at keeping a driver whom they've trained from the very beginning, but it is a costly endeavor.

The big problem with truck driving is that it is so demanding.  There are long hours.  There is the separation from your family.  There is the sometimes surprising reality of being all alone out here.  A new truck driver seldom is accustomed to having a job with so little supervision.  New truck drivers learn very quickly the results of their own decisions, and they usually regret their own choices when something goes south for them.  It is a whole lot easier to have a job where you have a foreman who tells you to take that stack of materials over there and re-stack it over in that other building on the south end of the property.  Anybody can handle that.  It is specific, and it is easy.  Having clear cut directions and objectives makes a job easy to do.  But... what if your foreman allowed you to make more money by taking your own initiative and getting more things accomplished by using your own head?

I was once on a construction site when I was in the sign business, and I heard a foreman telling a common laborer on the job some things he wanted him to do.  The young fellow was kind of complaining and wanting to know why didn't the foreman just have some of those other guys do that particular task.  The foreman kind of squared off with the recalcitrant helper and looked him in the eyes as he made this statement, "Young man they hired me from the neck up, I'm supposed to be using my head out here to get something done.  You were hired from the neck down, and I need you to start using the strength of your young body to accomplish the things that I need to get done - Is that clear enough?"

Just the other day I was having a discussion over at Trucking Truth with a person who just doesn't seem to get this whole adventurous lifestyle thing that we call "Trucking."  He seemed to think that trucking is going to be so easy.  You just have your directions from the dispatcher, you follow them and show up so they can unload you, then you rinse and repeat.  He was so worried about what he was going to occupy himself with during all those long hours of just cruising peacefully down the road.  He foolishly assumes that he is going to be bored.  I tried to break it down for him just a little, and one of the things I mentioned was you will be needing to spend some time communicating with your customers so that you can move your appointment times up.  He scoffed at my suggestion stating he was pretty sure the dispatcher will have all his appointments set and he will just follow the directions in the paperwork they give him.

Well, yes you can do that if you like, and you may end up being one of those people who were just hired from "the neck down."  One of the keys to making money in the trucking business is efficiency. That is as true for the larger corporate picture as it is for the individual driver.  I make a practice of moving my appointments - it is a big part of why I am considered one of the top drivers in my fleet. If one wants to turn some big miles consistently, and have dispatch trusting them fully to be able to handle what ever they have to dish out, then they have got to establish a track record of "gittin er done."

Here's an example of what I did on this last load to give you a picture of how this works to your advantage.  I picked this load up late on Friday night in Cressona, Pennsylvania.  It had three stops in Florida.  Here's how they lined up in consecutive order according to the paper work...

✔  Thomas & Betts in Ormond, Beach Florida (appointment at 0800 Monday)

✔  TW Metals in Orlando, Florida  (appointment at 1100 Monday)

✔  Alro Metals in Orlando, Florida (appointment at 0800 Tuesday)

Well, my first impression with my appointments is, "That doesn't look very efficient.  I should be able to get all three of those stops done in a single day if I am ready to go at that first stop and have hours available to me to work a full day."

Here is where the problem lies.  My third and final stop at Alro Metals has a cut off time for the receiving department of twelve o'clock - noon!  Actually the latest appointment they will give you is eleven a.m.  If you have an eleven o'clock appointment and you are running late, they will not take you past twelve o'clock.  Well, I don't like this whole scenario, and I am convinced I can remedy it. But wait... the paper work also states that at Alro Metals you have got to make an appointment 48 hours in advance!  So, the average person who was hired from the neck down says, "Well, I will just take my time on this one, there is no way to get around it."

People, we make money by moving freight.  Sitting and waiting is one of the biggest complaints I see when people are posting on line about their frustrations with this career.  I do everything I can to keep myself moving.  I got everything delivered on this load by Monday afternoon at 1400 - that is two p.m., and then I was able to knock off another 200 miles toward my getting back to Delhi a day earlier than my dispatcher was expecting me.  When I sent in my MT (empty) call my phone started ringing.  It was my dispatcher of course, and the following conversation ensued...

Dispatcher, "Are you serious?  You are already empty?"

Driver, "Yes sir, I will be back a day early."

Dispatcher, "That is so awesome dude, how did you pull this one off?

Driver, "Well, I just took a chance and first thing Monday morning I called Alro to see if they could move my appointment to ten o'clock on Monday.  After looking at their schedule they said that would work. Then I called TW Metals and told them I was running just a little bit late, and I needed to see if they could receive me at about 1300 (1:00 p.m.)  They said no problem.  With the way my truck was loaded I could get Alro's material off without affecting TW's materials so I just flipflopped my schedule and did Alro second and TW third."

Dispatcher, "Thanks for letting me know, this is really great.  Now I can get you updated in our system and get you planned for you next load a full day ahead of what we had planned."

That is how you put your career into Overdrive.  You take some initiative out here, and you always do what you say.  You try to be that guy who was hired from the neck up.  We actually have customers up in the Northeast who request me to be the driver on their loads.  They have come to know that I will be there at the time agreed upon, and they appreciate that.  My dispatcher knows that he can count on me, in fact he ended that little conversation with this statement, "Dale, I wouldn't have expected anything less from you, but it still is a surprise.  I don't know of another driver in our fleet that would have thought to do what you just pulled off."

Sunday, July 9, 2017


I've said this before in here, but working as an Over The Road Truck Driver is like living two or three lifetimes.  You just get exposed to so many things.  It is like sensory overload at times.  It is just a lot to take in when you are moving across this great country sometimes at an average clip of about three thousand miles per week.

It is not necessarily a bad thing.  Any truck driver can probably regale you with "Tales From The Road" if you dare to get him started.  Some of these guys can really talk and tell a tall tale.  I sometimes will avoid sitting with other truck drivers while in a Truck Stop Cafe. Sometimes I'm feeling "strung out from the road," as Bob Seeger would say, and I may be in a somewhat pensive mood.  During times like that I try to avoid the "counter."  You are going to end up in a conversation when you sit there.  It's not that I don't enjoy a lively conversation every now and then.  Sometimes I would just rather sit and ruminate on my own thoughts, and it's hard to do that when you have guys on either side of you who are lonely, desperate for conversation, and full up to the brim with their own self importance.

I've been thinking today about the many things I get to see and do out here.  I talk sometimes about how you have to make something of this career, and how you need to take it for what it's worth and do your best to make it enjoyable.  So many truck drivers seem to be miserable, and they seriously are missing out on some incredible opportunities to enjoy themselves.  When I get to a truck stop it is almost always my practice to take a walk.  This is not only for the exercise, but also just to get out and discover the things that are all around me, things that 98% of the drivers at any particular truck stop are missing out on.  Usually within just a couple of miles of any given truck stop there is a whole world of adventure going on unnoticed by the average truck driver who is too lazy to get out of his truck and do something for his own physical and mental well being.

Earlier this week I was parked at a customer's property waiting for my legally mandated ten hour break to pass so that I could get back on the road the next morning.  I could hear shouting going on just on the other side of a small wooded area.  It was the shouting of fans cheering at some sort of a sporting event.  I took a short walk over to the area and discovered a rousing "Little League" baseball game going on, and quite enjoyed myself sitting there and watching some young boys and their eager coaches try to best the other guys in the opposite dug-out.  It was sort of an Americana scene with families and friends all gathered together for a "rite of passage" that gets repeated all over this country on any given summer afternoon.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself as an unknown spectator in the crowd.

Today I am sitting in Ormond Beach Florida.  I got here about noon today, and I have a delivery appointment in the morning at Thomas & Betts.  I had time to kill so I started looking around.  Well, this weekend at the Daytona Harley Davidson store just down the road they are having one of these biker "get togethers," and though I didn't arrive here on a bike, I just went ahead and mingled right in with the crowd.  I admired their bikes...

And I enjoyed listening to the bands that were featured there playing live music...

A truck driver gets ample opportunity to do and see way more things than the average member of the human race.  He should take these opportunities and try to enjoy them when he is able.

I ate my lunch today at the Pig Stand Bar-B-Que restaurant.  I've been here before and posted a picture of their tanker truck that has been converted into a super huge Bar-B-Que pit.  Here it is again if you didn't catch it last time around...

Today I had their "Burnt Ends" sandwich with a side of Barbecued beans.  They have this interesting thing they do here with the bun - they burn their logo into the top of your bun.  It's a unique feature that I don't believe I have seen anywhere else.  How about this?  Have you ever seen another restaurant do such a thing?

They also had this crazy looking modified golf cart parked out on the patio dining area.  It reminded me of the time I was in the little town of  Ben Wheeler, Texas where they hold some golf cart drag racing events.  People show up with these super modified golf carts that will burn rubber and race quite rapidly down a miniature drag strip at an incredible pace, but all very quietly!

Last night I slept at the Pilot truck stop in Florence, South Carolina where I spotted this warning sign in the back corner of the parking lot.  Whenever I stay at a place like this, you can bet I think twice about stepping down out of my truck in the middle of the night to go inside the truck stop to use the restroom!

Speaking of signs that I have seen on the road.  Check out this one that is hanging right in front of the entrance to a hardware store in the little town of Eudora, Arkansas.  I'm not sure if "Hippies" are welcome here or not.  The sign looks friendly enough, but not being allowed to use the front doors seems a little discriminatory.  I'll let you be the judge...

I think you are getting the idea of what I mean by sensory overload.  I stop and take pictures when I can, mostly just so I can share these things with those of you who take the time to read in here.  But, as you can see, there is no lack of content to share with you on many a subject.  You get to see and do it all when you are out here constantly on the road.  It's not for everybody, but it is a big job that needs to be done by someone, and I happen to enjoy myself out here while "taking care of business."

I started this load up in Farmington, Connecticut.  I went from there to the SAPA plant in Cressona, Pennsylvania, where I picked up this load of aluminum extrusions...

I have three stops on this load.  One here in Ormond Beach, two in Orlando, and then I am deadheading back to Delhi, Louisiana.  That is a 2,000 mile trip for this load!  They are keeping me busy, and I am soaking in all the sights along the way.  I hope you enjoyed getting to see a few of the things that I do and see along my way.  I tried to limit myself in what I shared with you, so as not to "Overload" you.

Friday, July 7, 2017

What Is This Thing We Call "Trucking?"

Is it Pain, or is it Pleasure?  Is it Work, or is it just Weariness?  Is it a Living, or something more akin to a Lifestyle?  Or perhaps it is a mix of all the things I've mentioned here, and more besides.

Trucking is not a career for the casual observer, seeking a job, to just jump into without much consideration.  It takes considerable Commitment to make it in this industry.  The statistics show that approximately 95% of the new entrants to this career never make it past the one year mark.  That is an astounding number of failures at Trucking!

Have you ever tried to research Trucking as a career on the internet?  Goodness gracious, you would think this is the absolute worst thing one could ever choose to do for a living!  Many a truck driver talks as if they have thrown their life away in this pursuit.  Not too long ago the New York Times wrote an article about Truck Drivers entitled "Throw Away People."  Then even more recently USA Today published a tediously lengthy two part article about Trucking entitled "Rigged."  Their basic premise, and they came to this after interviewing a bunch of truck drivers, was that today's truck drivers are "Forced into debt. Worked past exhaustion. Left with nothing."

What is wrong with this career, or perhaps more suitably phrased, "'what is wrong with the people who choose this career?"  Has the American Worker become so soft and fragile that we can no longer appreciate hard work and the rewards that come from that exercise?  I recently drove my big rig past the Hoover Dam.  What a colossal piece of engineering that was and a great accomplishment by American workers.  My mind drifted back to those days when there were great men doing great things here.  Men like R.G. LeTourneau, who had both the Brains and the Brawn to get great things done.  My how the mighty have fallen!

Most of us spend our days at a keyboard pecking away our existence at menial tasks that do little in terms of actually producing something useful.  I always enjoyed being involved in manufacturing. There was a certain thrill for me to take raw products and turn them into something useful that people wanted to part with their money for.  I find that now days when I am driving my truck I am delivering those raw products to many of the same suppliers that I would purchase materials from back in the days when I was in the custom sign manufacturing business.  I still remember the day when I pulled my rig into the Eastern Metal Supply warehouse in Houston, TX to make a delivery and the plant manager "John" saw me and recognized me as one of his customers from years ago.  We used to attend the industry's conventions together in various parts of the country, and always enjoyed each others company.  He came over to me, shook my hand, and then took me into his office and we had a nice chat.  Then he gave me a tour of their facility just because he knows I love the manufacturing business.  When I finally got back to my truck the fork lift operator asked me, "Man, who are you? That guy never talks to the truck drivers who come in here, and he certainly doesn't invite them into his office!"

To be a successful Truck Driver, I am convinced one has got to embrace the whole lifestyle of it.  This is not a job that you work at for eight hours a day and then forget about it.  You don't go home each day, in fact if you are an over the road driver you may very well work fourteen to sixteen hours a day and only go home once a month or so.  Sure, that can be tough, I'll not deny it.  But to keep on doing this all the while, and being miserable at it is silly.  If you don't like it, go find a different job.  You may say, "I can't flip burgers and make this kind of money."  Well, money isn't everything, but if you choose to go for the money then why not figure out a way to enjoy yourself out here?

I get very wearied from all the vicious slander that truck drivers post online about their employers and their poor miserable lives.  Hello!  We are not slaves, we do have the power of choice.  That means you can choose another career if you like.  It also means, and this is important in this discussion, we can choose to enjoy ourselves out here while doing this job!

Who in the world do you know who gets to do the things you do and see the sights you see while you are working?  This may be one of the last of the jobs where you are totally unencumbered by other people who are watching and supervising you.  I wouldn't even know what to tell you if you asked me who my boss was.  How many jobs is that true of?  Pretty much I decide how much I am going to get done, and I am therefore rewarded based on my choices and decisions.  If I were to complain about my paycheck, I have no one to point the finger at other than myself.  For me, one of the greatest things about this adventurous career is that it is totally like being self employed, only it comes without all the burden of being responsible for other employees and paying the colossal bills involved.  There is a freedom and liberty to this career that is unparalleled in my estimation.

I take the steps to enjoy myself while I am on the road.  I always take walks in whatever area I am parked.  I familiarize myself with the many areas I go to.  I learn of their fascinating histories.  Some of the towns I go to are quite old and have an interesting past.  I was recently in Waynesboro, Virginia.  Do you know anything about that town?  Look at what I found on my little walk through their town.

I often stay the night in Fort Payne, Alabama.  It happens to be a good stopping  point on my many trips up into the Northeast parts of the country.  I had been there several times before I discovered their history.  It may not be the kind of thing they are excessively proud of, but it is their history none the less.  And I enjoyed getting to know more about the area.  Check out this story on these historical markers there on HWY 35.

I find simple pleasure in this lifestyle that most truck drivers never even notice.  I see the beauty of the landscape as the seasons change, I enjoy the complicated challenge of managing one's time so that you can be productive and profitable at this.  I enjoy the people I meet along the way.  I have made so many friends out here on the road.  Some of them are always glad to see me when I periodically appear into their lives unannounced.  There's a quaint little restaurant in Cressona, Pennsylvania with only a handful of tables in it called Jean's Place.  She genuinely seems to enjoy seeing me when I do show up.  She will sit at my table with me and visit.  She always wants to know where I've been, and where I am going.

I enjoy sometimes meeting up with my truck driving friends, people like Paul Anderson, who I recently met up with in Lexington, Virginia for a brief visit and a meal as our paths momentarily crossed each other's...

I enjoy the simplicity of this lifestyle.  Am I a bit quirky?  Maybe so, but man, I think people ought to enjoy the way they make a living.  After all, that is how we spend much of our time.  Look at what I did with this meal the other day - I was preparing myself a meal, and I realized that I had prepared it just as if I was having my best friends over for dinner.  I tried to place it on the plate so that it had a sense of appeal to it!  Silly? Maybe so, but it was an unconscious effort on my part.  It was some simple fare of summer sausage with cheese and crackers, yet I turned it into a feast for the eyes and the body...

I enjoy the many things I get to see and witness out here, the sunrises and the sunsets, the unexpected surprises that happen at times, like this rainbow that appeared at the truck stop where I was taking my rest.  After I had driven in a hard rain for most of the day, it was a welcome sight for this weary truck driver to take in before I closed my eyes for the days repose...

Oh, there are a lot of things I miss by being a truck driver.  I miss my dear wife at home...

I missed getting to see my daughter Sarah, and her husband Austin win a hamburger cook-off contest...

I miss my daughter Esther, and her husband Andrew, and their goofy Rottweiler "Lucy"who thinks She's a lap dog...

I miss my daughter Abigail, who I caught "horsing around" with this Sinclair Dinosaur while we were at a truck stop together once...

Yes, there are problems with pursuing this career, but goodness, who doesn't have some sort of problems in their lives.  I certainly don't consider myself to be miserable, or a "throw away person."  I'm actually quite proud to be an American Truck Driver.  I find the career suits me.  I think anyone who spends a little time in this blog will realize that I don't see the world through rose colored glasses.  I don't sugar coat this career and try to fool myself into enjoying it.  I genuinely am quite happy out here making things happen for the benefit of my family.  I have enjoyed much success at this, and realize it all the time when I hear from the many folks who are just out here suffering their way through the muck.  It takes a special person to succeed at this.  I have been blessed in this pursuit, and I try to do my best to help others realize the way to success at this.  I spend a lot of time over at Trucking helping folks manage the maze of getting started in this career.  Some of them survive, some of them go by the wayside, but it is the ones who thrive at it that make me the most proud.

What is this thing we call "Trucking?"  For me it is pleasure, satisfaction, and financial rewards that my family is benefiting from.  Don't interview me if you want to hear about how terrible this job is!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

And Now You Know... The Rest of The Story

If you are old enough to remember Paul Harvey's radio program, and him putting just the proper pause in that phrase to grab your attention, then you are "old" like me.  I keep thinking of that phrase when it comes to this crazy perishable load of onions that I took on last week.  So, here's the rest of the story...

Part of the plan on this load was to empty out there in Dallas first thing Saturday morning and then go to our terminal in Dallas and have my "A" service done on my truck.  These services are critical if you are trying to make your bonus money, and must be performed by certain mileage limitations.  If you go past that mileage mark, then you just lost your bonus money for that quarter.  I have found that a lot of our drivers don't even make an effort at making their bonus money.  It seems rather an easy thing to do to me, and it means usually an extra $6,000 dollars or more on my pay by the end of the year.  I've actually shown several of the other SAPA drivers how to accomplish this, and since then we have been consistently having more of our SAPA drivers on the "Three Star Driver" list at the end of each quarter than there are of any of the other drivers in our terminal's various fleets.  What's amazing about that is that there is only fifteen of us, and there are probably 350 or more drivers that are dispatched out of our terminal.  That "Three Star Driver" list is considered the "cream of the cream" at Knight, and we have been consistently having our drivers appear on that list.  The list is usually small, maybe up to twenty drivers at the most will be found there.  There are several measurements involved in achieving the bonus.  These measurements include fuel mileage, productivity, safety training, and having your truck serviced in a timely manner.  Here's a look at one of those lists from a while back, just to give you an idea of how few make it onto that list...

Of the sixteen drivers on that list, seven of them are on the SAPA account.  Lately, we have been having as many as eight or nine of our drivers on that list.  If you are wondering why you don't see my name "Dale" on the list, it is because my first name is "Garland."  I actually had one driver tell me that he didn't believe what I was telling him about the steps you need to take to get the bonus money.  He said he had been there for about a year and never gotten any bonus money.  He considered it to be sort of a lottery type thing where the computer just selects certain drivers at random!  Truck drivers!  Some of us will believe anything!

Okay, my intractable prose is getting away with me, and I am veering off course.  The point I started to make was "the plan" to get emptied out on Saturday morning and get my service done at the terminal in Dallas.  I had set an appointment with them so that they could make sure and make time for me, but with all the delays at OM Produce, and then the entire load getting rejected, I didn't get back to the terminal until it was about five minutes to closing time for the shop.  They looked at me and said "Where have you been?  We've been looking for you!  We are sorry, but you missed your appointment - you will have to wait until Monday morning."  Meanwhile the heat is cooking these onions back there in that Conestoga, and I'm afraid they are going to be caramelized by the time I get them up to Michigan where they are now destined.  I can't sit in the parking lot during record heat for the whole weekend.  I need to keep these onions on the move, driving with my rear door open so they get some ventilation and relief from the heat.  We send an email to the terminal in Kansas City and request an "A" service from them for first thing Monday morning.  There is no way we are getting a response because they are closed at this time, but I decide to take off after my ten hour break in Dallas and get myself up to the Kansas City terminal since it is on the way to Michigan from here.  If they can get me in and do that service for me I will still be on schedule for the bonus pay, but anything further than that and I am out of luck.  With this load I have been sliding the Conestoga open while taking my breaks just to give the onions a break from the heat being generated inside that cover, but I've got to tell you this load sure does smell good - I love the smell of onions cooking!

Everything worked like clock-work when I got to Kansas City, thankfully they accommodated me and sent me on my way, helping to set me up for success not only on this load, but also for an extra fifteen hundred bucks or more this quarter.  When I got to Hearty Fresh in Michigan they were glad to see the onions, and unloaded me promptly.  They didn't even balk at the load!  This was the strangest experience I've had yet in trucking.  One customer thinks I have brought them rotten onions, and the next one thinks they are lovely!  I don't get it, but I did tell my driver manager that he can count me out on the next load of onions they come up with.  I'm sticking to the non-perishable things like metals.  Here's a look in my drivers side mirror of the fork lift driver scurrying about taking my load of onions off and putting them right into a refrigerated warehouse full of all kinds of produce...

This load really got crazy for me. There must have been at least three different brokers involved in this thing, and they were blowing up my phone! One of them even called me wanting to know if he was going to get paid for the miles to Michigan! I laughed at him and said, "Sir, I am the driver. I don't know why you think I would have any say in whether you are getting paid or not. You gave this load to someone at Knight, and I suggest you contact that person if you are worried about your paycheck. As for me, I am doing everything I can to protect these onions from the heat, and make sure they make it safely to Michigan." His response was, "Those are my onions, and I expect to be paid fully for the miles they travel. Who authorized you to take them to Michigan?" At that point I was throwing up my hands. I gave him the person's name in claims who told me to take them to Hearty Fresh, and told him he needed to contact the claims department at Knight and talk to them. Not five minutes later I got a call from another guy who claimed the onions were his, and he wanted me to take them to some place in Virginia!

Here's another strange twist in the whole scenario. One of the brokers (the one who wanted me to take the onions to Virginia) sent a nasty email to my driver manager complaining about me. He said he had called the receiver in Michigan and they said that I had not contacted them to set an appointment. He also claimed I had lied and told him I'd be there on Monday, when the truth was that I spoke to him on Monday and told him I would deliver on Tuesday, and that I had already set my appointment with the customer. There was actually about five lies he told my dispatcher. So my dispatcher calls me and says he's got to call the guy when there are complaints like that, but he wants me to tell him exactly what has taken place first.

My response was, "Do you mind if I call him and straighten this out, because you know nothing in that email is correct." He says, "Go right ahead Dale, I hate dealing with these snakes."

The Broker is perturbed that I'm the one responding to his email with a phone call, and wants to know how I know what is in his private emails to another person. I tell him it's called "communication," and that's what we do to make sure his product is delivered properly. I remind him of the exact times of our conversations, and the content of each one. I also remind him that I'm on a cell phone, all my calls to his number are logged with dates and times. I calmly and professionally let him know that if he had some legitimate complaints about me he had better have them substantiated, if not then he needs to let my driver manager know he was mistaken.

Five minutes later my dispatcher calls again saying he got a new email from the broker apologizing and saying he got this load confused with another one! What a piece of work these brokers can be!

As a musician, I've written a fair amount of songs over the years.  I'm thinking of working up something about "The Onion Blues" right now.  Who knows, it might be a big hit among the truck driving crowd!

I'm back in Delhi Louisiana today.  It feels good to have a full load of aluminum behind me.  I'm heading out tonight on a 1,500 mile run that has it's first stop at Sigora Solar in Waynesboro, Virginia.  Then I will go to a regular customer, Camfil, in Riverdale, New Jersey.  From there I have a stop in Storrs, Connecticut, one in Bristol, Connecticut, and two in Farmington, Connecticut.  Some degree of normalcy has returned, if you can call the life of an over the road truck driver normal!